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The Chink in Cameron's Counter-Narrative Armour

20/07/2015 14:16 BST | Updated 20/07/2016 10:59 BST

The announcement today by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, of a five-year plan to address home-grown Islamist extremism, continues a sequence of policy announcements and speeches by senior government figures to this effect that stretches back to the end of last year.

Then, it had been the home secretary, Theresa May, who made similar pronouncements in bringing proposed new legislation - the Prevent Duty - to the fore. This now mandates various specified authorities - schools, colleges and universities, as well as hospitals and prisons - to take measures "to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism" - a notably passive formulation.

More recently, in advance of the Queen's Speech to Parliament - which sets out the government's legislative programme for the period ahead - in May of this year, Cameron had lamented that the UK had been a "passively tolerant society" for too long, lambasting this as encouraging extremism.

But aside from conflating tolerance with indifference, in setting out to confront those who are born and raised in the UK but "who don't really identify with Britain", as he now puts it, the Prime Minister and others, like many before, implicitly reveal the real chink in their counter-narrative armour - which is that they do not offer any narrative of their own. They are clear about what they are against, but not about what they are for.

It is not the mystical lure of supposed foreign ideologies that is the real driver here. Rather, time and again, the evidence suggests that the often young, intelligent and highly wilful individuals alluded to in such proposals - the sort who may choose to head-off to Syria to join ISIS and are accordingly far from being the vulnerable and easily-groomed types that politicians, commentators and the Security Service appear to assume - are primarily motivated by a rejection of mainstream Western culture more than anything else.

In that regards, Cameron is quite right and ought to pay more attention to his own words when he notes that they "don't identify with Britain". Only then are they propelled elsewhere in search of meaning and purpose to their lives. So, despite all the attention being focused there, Islam is their motif, not their motive.

Nor however, should we be fooled into believing that it is some inchoate sense of grievance that drives some out - as opponents of Cameron have proposed in alluding to various forms of exclusion or discrimination. If anything, too many are pandered to in this belief, perceiving of themselves as victims rather than really being so.

Many have been presented with ready excuses for their own failures through narratives of historical oppression and contemporary hurt that they are indulged with here. That is why their friends and families are as shocked as anybody else when they act. Rather than being challenged in their beliefs, mainstream culture now seeks to avoid such confrontation for fear of causing offence. More significantly this suggests we do not know what it is we really believe in the first place.

A growing number of educators today report avoiding teaching subjects such as the Crusades or the Holocaust to classes in certain areas. It is a form of moral capitulation that encourages distorted certitudes. Worse, it presents and reflects a culture that lacks the moral backbone to promote itself more positively. If Cameron wants to fix 'Broken Britain' as he once did, it is not so much to material inequalities he should look to as to these moral and morale failings that indulge all-manner of malcontents today.

Professor Bill Durodié is a professor and chair of international relations at the University of Bath